The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has recently undertaken a nationwide compliance initiative to help retirement plans focus on best practices, maintain complete and accurate census information, communicate with participants and beneficiaries about their eligibility for retirement benefits, and implement effective policies and procedures to locate missing participants and beneficiaries.

Not every practice is appropriate for every plan. The examples below are not listed by priority. Plan sponsors should consider what practices will yield the best results in a cost-effective manner. The specific steps will depend on facts and circumstances particular to the plan and the participant.

Based on EBSA’s observations, they recommend the following best practices:

  1. Maintaining accurate census information for plan participants
    • Contacting plan participants, including those that have terminated employment, to confirm or update their contact information
    • Reminding participants to update their contact information
    • Following up on undeliverable mail/email
    • Regularly auditing census information and correcting errors
  2. Implementing effective communication strategies
    • Using plain language and offering non-English assistance when appropriate
    • Encouraging contact through websites and toll-free phone numbers
    • Building steps into the exit process to confirm contact information and discuss benefits
    • Encouraging employees to consolidate accounts from prior employers or rollover IRAs
  3. Missing participant searches
    • Checking related plan and employer records for participant, beneficiary and next-of-kin information
    • Checking with beneficiaries and emergency contacts for correct information
    • Using free online search engines, public record databases, obituaries and social media to locate participants
    • Using a commercial locator service, a credit-reporting agency or an internet search tool to locate individuals
    • Attempting contact via certified mail or a private delivery service to the last known address
    • Using the Social Security Death Index
    • Reaching out to colleagues of missing participants or local union office (if applicable)
  4. Documenting procedures and actions
    • Putting the plan’s policies and procedures in writing
    • Documenting key decisions and the steps taken to implement the policies
    • For a plan where a third-party record keeper handles participant communications, ensuring that the recordkeeper is performing these steps on behalf of the plan, as applicable

In light of this guidance, we will be taking the following steps to locate missing participants:

  • When mail is returned to us for a terminated participant, we will attempt to contact them using the phone number or email we have on file. If that does not yield results, we will then search in a proprietary database for contact information. We will then reach out to the participant to obtain updated contact information.
  • When mail is returned to us as undeliverable for a current participant, we will contact the plan sponsor to get an updated address.